Postmodern Criminology Research Paper

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Postmodern criminology is a critically-animated theoretical framework that humanistic ally accounts for the problems of crime and the possibilities of justice at the self/society divide. Mindful of the development of postmodernist inspired criminology, this research paper succinctly reviews four issues. First, it describes the philosophical evolution of the theory, emphasizing its negative and fatalistic; affirmative, constitutive, and integrative; and ultramodern strains of heterodoxy. Second, it presents several key concepts refined throughout postmodern criminology’s historical development. These pivotal concepts include the following: (1) discourse; (2) meaning; (3) knowledge; (4) power; and (5) subjectivity/agency. Third, it delineates at some greater length postmodern criminology’s “state-of-the art” philosophy. This delineation includes attention to current (and novel) directions in theory, method, and praxis. The paper concludes by specifying a number of conceptual controversies that warrant further philosophical elaboration. These controversies are characterized as “open questions” that await postmodern criminology’s consideration.

Origins Of Postmodern Criminology

Throughout history, people have sought ways to make sense of human behavior and social phenomena. During the Middle Ages, theologically-based concepts were employed to explain human nature and the seemingly ongoing battle between good and evil. When such accounts were deemed inadequate, people endeavored to better understand themselves and the world in which they lived through more scientific methods. This modern age, also known as the Enlightenment period, ushered in a new philosophical approach to examining peoples’ thoughts and actions. Humans were now perceived as logical beings capable of exercising deductive reasoning, employing free will, and choosing their own desires (Best and Kellner 1991). In this way, absolute truths purportedly were made discernable. This modern age “held the extravagant expectation that the arts and sciences would further not only the control of the forces of nature but also the understanding of self and world, moral progress, justice in social institutions, and even human happiness.” (Habermas 1980, pp. 162–163.)

The phrase, Cogito, ergo sum – I think, therefore I am, is often utilized to describe the modernist’s logical and fully autonomous subject. Since the Enlightenment period, this belief in a reasoning agent has endured. As such, the concept of the rational individual has provided the foundation for numerous criminological theories employed by researchers to study and explain wayward behavior. For example, rational choice theory rests on the notion of a self-made person who purposefully chooses his or her actions. The theory asserts that a criminal makes use of deductive reasoning while weighing the benefits and costs of committing an offense. If the perceived benefits of committing the crime (e.g., money) outweigh the perceived costs (e.g., incarceration), the criminal will engage in the unlawful act. Thus, these and other modernist-inspired theories support a number of deterrence and retributive-based responses to crime and delinquency.

While modernism seemingly promises systematic and robust ways to explain and predict human behavior, some question its ability to adequately address problems that plague contemporary society (Best and Kellner 1991). The philosophy of postmodernism emerged in response to the modernist contentions regarding human behavior and social phenomena. Its proponents charge that science fails to sufficiently account for the human experience. In other words, while empirical methods may explain the biology of human beings, they cannot fully explicate the anomalies of being human differently. After all, contradictions and inconsistencies, spontaneities and absurdities are also a part of our humanities.

Further, while supporters of the modernist agenda argue that truth is absolute and knowledge is certain, postmodern thinkers assert that commitments to totalizing truths or universalizing epistemologies are the fictions of the Enlightenment era (Arrigo et al. 2005). As Foucault (1977) insightfully proclaimed, knowledge consists of only “claims to truth.” A number of postmodern commentators contend that such claims have contributed to the establishment of harmful movements that egregiously advance the ideological interests of imperialism, sexism, racism, and class oppression (Henry and Milovanovic 1999). Thus, as one of the foremost postmodernists, Jean-Francois Lyotard (1984) declared, “Let us wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name” (p. 82). The “honor” to which he alludes, is our own dignity lived differently and celebrated dynamically.

Negative And Fatalistic

Some of the earliest postmodern thinkers consisted of Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, and Julia Kristeva (Arrigo et al. 2005). Although he did not formally promote a postmodern perspective, French philosopher Michel Foucault is traditionally hailed as one of the leading exponents of this approach. The intellectual stance that these post-Enlightenment luminaries maintained with respect to truth and knowledge has led some to describe them as negative and fatalistic in philosophical orientation (e.g., Schwartz and Friedrichs 1994). Indeed, according to “first wave” postmodern scholars, total objectivity cannot be established, final truths neither exist nor are they fully discoverable, and the foundations of any proposed structure (whether in art, reason, science, and/or their cultural artifacts) can be disassembled and reassembled in countless ways. Thus, negative and fatalistic postmodernists seek to challenge all claims to certainty, exactitude, and completeness. In doing so, they endeavor to expose underlying assumptions in text-making that seemingly support such finite declarations.

To debunk absolute claims to truth, postmodern commentators engage in critique. This approach to uncovering fragments, fictions, and falsehoods in knowledge production is not simply rooted in criticism but also is sourced in deconstruction. As method, deconstruction systematically examines that which appears to be true and reveals contradictions, inconsistencies, oppositions, and interdependencies lodged within presumably neutral and impartial texts (Derrida 1970, 1981). As such, those who endorse this method of inquiry do not insist on the existence of alternative truths. This reasoning would undo the logic of deconstruction. Indeed, from the negative and fatalistic perspective of postmodernism, to insist on an epistemological standpoint entails that one make a categorical truth claim. Assertions such as these represent a landscape of inexhaustible deconstructive inquiry. This is why the early postmodernists have been classified as skeptics, nihilists, and anti-foundationalists (Henry and Milovanovic 1996, 1999). Under these de-stabilizing conditions, what purpose could the making of meaning serve?

Affirmative, Constitutive, And Integrative

Where the negative and fatalistic approach to postmodernism seeks to make explicit the “undecidable” nature of texts, the affirmative, constitutive, and integrative perspective (for applications see, Arrigo and Milovanovic 2010) also endeavors to reconstruct them. This reconstruction entails claims to conditional, positional, and relational truth and knowledge (Arrigo 1995). As an intellectual transition in theory development, attention is directed toward understanding how an “edifice [a text or system of thought] is built, and how it stands, in spite of opposition [but also] how it can be rebuilt or built differently” (Einstadter and Henry 1995, pp. 280–281). These replacement constructions acknowledge that humans co-produce and reify the structures, organizations, and institutions of which they are a part, while, simultaneously and interdependently, these material forces contribute to defining the subject’s very own possibilities. This is the meaning of the constitutive enterprise (e.g., Henry and Milovanovic 1996).

While negative and fatalistic postmodernists contend that humans are susceptible to the limitsetting influences of these structural intensities (e.g., the “death” of the subject), second wave proponents of postmodernism demonstrate how people can nevertheless create new social worlds and emergent social selves (Henry and Milovanovic 1999). Along these lines, criminologists in support of actualizing these potentialities have called for greater interdisciplinary academic border-crossing. This would entail synthesizing insights derived from such disparate fields as chaos theory, psychoanalytic semiotics, literary criticism, cultural studies, existential phenomenology, and critical dialogical pedagogy (Arrigo and Milovanovic 2010).


Recently, a third transition within the philosophy of postmodernism has developed. This new wave of thinking is known as the ultramodern. Consistent with constitutive theory, this perspective asserts that the self/society mutuality is coproduced by the human agent and the structural/organizational intensities that influence/shape the subject. To this notion, ultra-modernists contribute the view that four mutually supporting spheres of interdependent influence exist. These influencing flows include circumscribed images (Symbolic realm), privileged texts (Linguistic realm), embodied inscriptions (Material realm), and their replications and disseminations (Cultural realm) (Arrigo et al. 2011; Arrigo and Milovanovic 2009; Milovanovic 2011). The relationship between the four spheres and the twin dynamics (i.e., self/society mutuality) is one in which each force contributes to the maintenance of the others. Ultramodern commentators charge that these spheres of influence currently perpetuate and sustain harms of reduction (limits to being) and harms of repression (denials of becoming). This harm, both material and existential in composition, extends its captivity beyond offenders (the kept) to include their keepers, regulators and watchers. In the ultramodern age, this captivity is criminal.

The ultramodern version of postmodernism seeks to specify how the ubiquity of this captivity renders human/social progress no more than a shadow of what it could be or could become for one and about all. To transcend harms of reduction/repression, ultra-modernists employ both deconstructive and reconstructive techniques. The most promising reconstructive technique emerges from within a virtue ethic that celebrates human/social flourishing and the different and transformative possibilities that pursuing this ethic implies. Through ongoing engagement of this sort, ultra-modernists maintain that a new type of citizenship (i.e., personal well-being; individual excellence) and a new quality of justice (i.e., for one, about all, and collectivist) can be seeded and nurtured in provisional, positional, and relational contexts (Arrigo et al. 2011).

Background On Postmodern Criminology Concepts

Postmodern criminology is an ever-evolving philosophy. Indeed, there are numerous contributors to its theoretical development and research trajectory (Arrigo and Milovanovic 2010). Notwithstanding this rich intellectual history, several shared notions have been pivotal to its evolution. These notions include: discourse, meaning, knowledge, power, and subjectivity/ agency. In what follows, each of these concepts is briefly described.


From the modernist perspective, discourse is neutral. That is, the act of speech and the act of writing are instruments by which individuals communicate rationally formulated expressions. However, postmodernists regard discourse as a powerful vehicle through which humans construct identity (e.g., self, others, situations). Drawing primarily upon Lacan’s (1977) groundbreaking work on discourse construction and analysis, postmodernists view human subjects as “formed by and through their use of language and by the inherent meaning that language use creates and invokes” (Henry and Milovanovic 1996, p. 8).

Lacan’s schematizations on discourse are featured prominently in the theory and method of deconstructionism (Arrigo et al. 2005). This latter concept is something of a fulcrum for a number of ideas on which postmodernism rests. Indeed, postmodern thinkers “consider all narrative accounts to be texts, including books, stories, descriptions, reports, accounts, even non-verbal communication such as demeanor and gestures. Thus, all discourse of any kind is a text, as are all phenomena and events” (Henry and Milovanovic 1996, p. 5; see also Rosenau 1992). And, as previously explained, the undecidable nature of all texts (i.e., that they are filled with multiple readings), means that truth, even when specified as such, can never fully or exhaustively be discerned. For example, juridical language is a text through which judges convey their opinions on legal matters. However, court declarations are only one rendition of a given reality. The text of “legalese” produces meaning that is consistent with black letter law; however, lived experience is purified by way of legal language. Thus, “court talk” cannot fully communicate or embrace the non-sanitized experiences of those to whom or about whom it is directed. This “cleansing” process is what makes juridical discourse totalizing in its stigmatization.

In the illustration above, we see how human interactions and social phenomena are connected through language, including the system of language (i.e., the text) that is the law. But, given the postmodernist perspective on discourse, any text can be disassembled to make more explicit how it (unwittingly) gives preference to majority “voices” (e.g., those of status and standing) over minority “voices” (e.g., those lacking social, economic, political capital). This is why “[d]econstruction tears a text apart [and] reveals its contradictions and assumptions” (Rosenau 1992, p. xi). Legal and criminological postmodernists, particularly those who endorse the affirmative and ultramodern perspectives, contend that these texts can then be reassembled so that they more completely affirm the voices (the identities) of the excluded and powerless (e.g., Arrigo and Milovanovic 2009, 2010).


People construct their identities, their realities, through communication (the written or spoken word), and by assigning meaning to the language they utilize. Postmodernists frequently employ phrases such as “language games,” “regimes of signs,” “discursive formations,” “rhetorics,” and “linguistic coordinate systems” when referencing the specialized meaning situated within a given text (Henry and Milovanovic 1996, p. 8). In the lexicon of postmodernism, words are often referred to as signifiers. That is, words are unstable, value-laden, and freighted with meaning. To illustrate, consider Henry and Milovanovic’s (1996) assessment of the language employed in the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision that “no person.. .shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law” (p. 9). As they contend, terms such as “person,” “life,” “liberty,” and “law” are signifiers. These signifiers have a specific meaning within the realm of jurisprudence. The process of meaning-making by way of signifiers, then, is a critical component to how the subject constructs identity, including their social worlds and social selves (Lacan 1977, see also Arrigo et al. 2005).


From the modernist perspective, truth can only be retrieved by relying on robust, scientifically sourced methods. In doing so, “Absolute Postulates” emerge in which “all other ‘facts’ can be explained [utilizing] linear, deductive logic” (Milovanovic 1997, p. 14). With such truth claims, a preferred system of knowledge is established. It is a system of thought, of knowing, that demands compliance if conventional meaning is to be assured. Stated differently, this system of knowing is one that demands that others think, communicate, and live similarly rather than differently.

In contrast, postmodern adherents argue that since texts are poly-vocal, knowledge about such renditions of reality and identity are, at best, communicated in fragments and through impressions. This is why there is “no independent reality other than in the minds and practices of those who create them and recreate them” (Henry and Milovanovic, 1999, p. 5). Indeed, truth and the knowledge claims about its legitimacy are social constructions or fictions that temporarily anchor our existences in circumscribed and incomplete ways (Arrigo and Williams, 2006; Best and Kellner 1991). In other words, specialized types of knowledge exist for individuals and/or groups but they can only ever be historically contingent, awaiting careful textual exegeses. Thus, while extant systems of modernist knowledge contend that empirical inquiry provides the most exacting path by which to explain and predict human behavior, postmodernists point out that science’s mantle of privilege and respectability often discounts, ignores, or dismisses other worthwhile avenues for knowing and communicating the difference that is the human/social experience. After all, “science,” too, is a social construction, a way of rendering reality.


Featured prominently in postmodern thinking is the role of power. According to two of its leading exponents, Deleuze (1988) and Foucault (1977), the concept of power is present in all relations. A number of postmodernists posit that crime is the power to harm and deny others their humanity (Arrigo et al., 2011; Arrigo and Milovanovic 2009; Henry and Milovanovic 1996). In other words, crime is “an expression of energy to make a difference over others, to the exclusion of those others who, in the instant, are rendered powerless to make [and be] their own difference” (Henry and Milovanovic 1996, p. x). This power is legitimized through systems of thought within such “disciplines” as education, medicine, law, and penology. This disciplining is then institutionalized by way of indoctrinated agents (the keepers and regulators of the kept) (Arrigo and Milovanovic 2009; Arrigo et al. 2011). From the postmodernist perspective, however, such systems of knowing “advance only specialized truths that serve to establish or maintain oppressive power relations” (Arrigo and Williams 2006, p. 13).

The effects of such disciplining by way of privileging some texts (i.e., slavishly obeying circumscribed ways of knowing, of making meaning, and of constructing identity) is the power to harm. As captivity, this harm extends to all (the kept, and their keepers, managers, and watchers). Indeed, this is the maddening power to harm by way of total confinement, experienced both existentially and materially to, from, and about us all (Arrigo 2012). These harms, as crimes, involve denials of being (i.e., the subject who seeks recovery) and limits on becoming (i.e., the subject who seeks transformation) (Arrigo and Milovanovic 2009).

Harms of reduction occur when an individual’s ability to make a difference productively is hindered through the actions of some system’s agent or representative. For example, a recovering addict may be prevented from pursuing palliative health-enhancing activities because of the ex-user’s history of relapse addiction. The person is rendered less than what he or she could be (i.e., as in further restored, recovered, or healed). Harms of repression occur when an individual’s ability to be different dynamically is hindered by the actions of some system’s agent or representative. Here, the subject’s transformative possibilities are limited because of one’s status as a recovering addict (i.e., rendered finite given one’s already marginalized standing) or are circumscribed (i.e., defined by the terms and conditions of others given that one’s consequent life already has been decided and determined). This is the powerful realm of harm in which one’s societally-enforced and/or self-inscribed text disciplines subjectivity (the individual is forever branded as deviant, diseased, dangerous, or other). Moreover, both forms of harm extend to the manifold incarnations of subjectivity. Indeed, the keepers, managers, and watchers (i.e., the anesthetized general public) also are texts that write their own captivity as subjects, especially when they teach, proscribe, govern, enforce, and/ or inter-relate by way of harms of reduction and repression.


As noted previously, the modernist perspective asserts that humans are rational. Following this episteme, people are “conscious, whole, self-directing, reflective, unitary, and transparent” subjects (Milovanovic 1997, p. 9). They are purposeful as in criminology’s rational choice theory, and centered (i.e., in control, stable) as in law’s juridic subject developed in the “reasonable woman or man” standard (Arrigo et al. 2005).

The postmodernist perspective argues that the subject, the acting agent, is de-centered. This is an individual who is open to transitions; fluid and in-process; and whose humanity is more fully expressed and embodied through the chaotic (i.e., orderly disordered) forces of contradiction, inconsistency, spontaneity, and even absurdity. For postmodernists, these aspects of our existences must be extolled rather than confined. In other words, unlike the predictable, linear, and static subject of modernity, post-modernity maintains that our identities are not so easily reducible to finite categorizations or cause-effect rationales. This is how captivity in texts and in systems of thought prevails. To illustrate, when we define individuals through an “either/or” logic and view them as “deviants or conformists; law violators or law abiders; villains or heroes” (Arrigo 1995, p. 454), we fail to comprehend that their (our) more complete subjectivity is located in the mutuality that these binaries signify. Restoring this agency (i.e., the recovering subject) and revolutionizing it (i.e., the transforming subject) is the ultramodern journey that awaits all subjects (e.g., Lecercle 1985; Milovanovic 2011).

State Of The Art Postmodern Criminology

Drawing upon the concepts established in the first two transitions of postmodern thinking, ultramodern commentators have developed an innovative model for assessing the madness (the captivity) manufactured, reified, and legitimized by way of the criminal justice apparatus. This is a reference to institutional decision making that dangerously and fearfully supports the technologies of risk/threat avoidance, hyper vigilance, and panoptic surveillance, notwithstanding considerable evidence to the contrary on their capacity to grow citizenship and advance justice. Among other examples, three specific institutional practices have been examined in the recent literature and are worth noting: (1) cognitively impaired juveniles waived to the adult system, (2) psychiatrically disordered inmates placed in long-term disciplinary solitary confinement, and (3) formerly incarcerated sexually violent predators placed in civil detention followed by multiple forms of community inspection and reentry monitoring (Arrigo et al. 2011).

In each instance, the precedent-setting and/or prevailing case law was identified and reviewed. These three systems of thought (i.e., texts of mental health law), were then deconstructed at the level of judicial temperament (i.e., attitudes and perceptions) and jurisprudential ethic (i.e., moral philosophy informing juridical disposition). At issue were the ways in which jurists talk about and render decisions affecting troubled, vulnerable, and distressed offenders; those victimized by their actions whether in free society or behind prison walls; and the communities that bind all of these constituencies together. In this qualitative study, the investigators demonstrated how a careful re-reading (i.e., deconstruction) of these mental health law texts could further explain how state-regulated institutions, by way of their respective agents, operate as “totalizing apparatuses” that sustain harms of reduction and repression (Arrigo 2004, p. vii; see also Arrigo et al. 2011). Stated differently, virtue ethics and its promise of excellence for one and about all were not a part of these systems of thought; character did not write these texts. Thus, decision making that spoke of courage, compassion, generosity, mercifulness, etc., for one and about all was altogether lacking in and throughout the case law narratives. However, these virtues, when written about and lived, are the habits of character that help to seed and grow excellence in human/social flourishing (Aristotle 2000; Levinas 2004). The madness of total captivity sustains itself when identities are constructed, meaning is made, and subjectivity is categorized in the absence of such mutating self/society excellence (Arrigo 2012). In what follows, the relevance of these observations will be tentatively explored in relation to further developing ultramodern theory, method, and praxis. These comments provide some grounding for conceiving of ultramodern philosophy as an emerging and postmodernist-informed human/ social science of criminology.

Developments In Theory

How does the power exercised through harms of reduction and repression operate? In other words, how do these limits and denials unconsciously emerge, take up residence in texts, materially and existentially discipline self/social identities, and guarantee the culturalized replication of each whose co-productive effects reify the normalization of violence? As described previously, four interactive and mutually supporting spheres of influence co-shape the self/society binary. These flows, with their corresponding frequencies and fluctuating intensities, include the symbolic, linguistic, material, and cultural realms. Presently, the interdependent and constitutive effects of these forces resonate as domains of captivity, as conditions of control.

The self/society mutuality consists of the human agent and the structural and/or organizational intensities to which the person is directed and captured and from which the subject co-shapes these flows. The relationship among the four spheres and the twin dynamics (i.e., self/society) is porous in nature. In other words, each force is dependent on and contributes to the composition of the other spheres. Because harms of reduction and repression are existentially and materially ubiquitous, ultramodern theorists argue that their power must be de-stabilized by way of deconstruction. To accomplish this, some further commentary is needed on how these dynamically supporting spheres interact with the twin dynamics such that these flows function as conditions of control reifying and legitimizing captivity for one and all.

The Symbolic sphere involves the consumption of prevailing, incomplete, and circumscribed images (i.e., pictures or scenes in our minds). These images symbolize an aesthetic about and for crime and those who commit acts of violence and victimization. But this inadequate symbolization extends to others as well. Indeed, an aesthetic sensibility also is conjured about victims and how their injury is managed and/or corrected by way of social institutions and their agents. Thus, the space that the symbolic spheres inhabits, is one that commits or assigns us to “the consumption of a particular and dominant aesthetic regarding vulnerable, troubled, and distressed individuals; those professionals whose expertise includes treatment, corrections, and societal reentry; and the interventions exercised to ameliorate offenders and the offended” (Arrigo et al. 2011, p. 164).

Once they are spoken, the shadows that these images cast about the self/society mutuality become an oral history. Eventually, these spoken images become a written text. This is the realm that represents the influencing force of the linguistic sphere on the twin dynamics. Because the image-crafting at the symbolic level lacks an aesthetic that more completely signifies our dynamic and transformative humanity, the story that it tells (for example, about offenders) while one that communicates a type of narrative coherence, can only read as a summary representation (Cicourel 1981; Knorr-Cetina 1981) of, for, and about the incarcerate. As such, the knowledge that is constructed by way of these representations constitutes a false epistemology; it tells a fictional story through its incompleteness. Indeed, these texts are fashioned by way of partial truths about those who injure wrongly, those who are victimized painfully, those who keep and manage both purposefully, and those who watch on hypnotically and docilely (i.e., uncritically). The currency in identity construction and in meaning making regarding these truths is sourced in politics – the politics of rendering silent the texts and images of social selves and social relations that could be dynamically restorative and vibrantly transformative for one and about all. Nurturing and sustaining this lack of experimentation and innovation in storytelling, is how harms of reduction and repression become reified texts.

When the fictional story that is told about crime and criminals becomes a lived narrative, then it is materially embodied as virtuous. This is the influencing force of the material sphere that produces bodies of knowledge or systems of thought whose fluctuating intensities discipline the self/society mutuality. This disciplining extends to the use of productive technologies of control that ensure compliance – whether, for example, in education, medicine, law, or economics. These technologies (e.g., threat/risk assessment protocol, actuarial penology, and “evidence-based” science) endorse renditions of reality, of self/society identities, whose deployment often demands total and slavish-like obedience to these regimes of captivating truth and normalizing regimens of human/social existence. These regimes and regimens dangerously “inscribe the twin dynamics and problematically render.. .silent manifestations of dissent” (Arrigo et al. 2011, p. 165). Here, too, this captivity and normalization extend to and from the kept, as well as their keepers, managers, and watchers.

The fluctuating intensities of the symbolic, linguistic, and material spheres are culturalized by way of their continuously replicated multimedia-based derivatives. The immediacy and reproduction of iterative information, of manufactured reality, by way of the Internet’s global village, 24/7 news cycles, Hollywood dramatizations and re-enactments, and even the sites and sounds of Las Vegas’ “other worldly” spectacles or Disney World’s animatronic simulations, makes identities instantly, although incompletely, accessible. This is because these identities about the self, others, and of situations are nothing more than illusions. These copies of reality, as fictions, are problematic in that they can be interpreted as more authentic and true than the reality from which they are derived (Baudrillard 1983a, b). This cosmopolitan influence is the force of the cultural sphere. It imitatively perpetuates and sustains the status quo in image-crafting, text-making, and material disciplining. The cultural sphere is both the source and product of violence normalized, of harms experienced reductively and repressively, and of humanity rendered an ontological shadow of what it could be or could become.

Developments In Method

As method, the ultramodern builds on the deconstructive approach. The postmodernist critique that ensues emphasizes a re-consideration of the text in question. This questioning consists of a re-examination of the reality rendered to which the self/society is directed and from which this mutuality co-produces that reality. This rendering of reality is informed by its constituent conditions of control with their interdependent flows, intensities, fluctuations, and effects. These conditions, as spheres of influence, are prisms through which the disassembling critique is filtered in historically contingent although manifest form. The manifestations of reality, then, are the images, texts, embodiments, and cultural reproductions of each that exercise power existentially and materially. This is the power to set limits on being and impose denials of becoming for one and about all. This harm, as the crime of captivity, is what ultra-modernity seeks to specify and renounce. The criminal justice apparatus is replete with texts whose rendering of reality is both totalizing and maddening. These renditions await ultramodern critique (e.g., Arrigo et al. 2011).

Overcoming the madness reified and legitimized by the systems of thought that are criminal justice entails yet another methodological journey. This excursion rebuilds or builds differently the text in question. This is the activity of reconstruction. At issue are the assemblages of images, texts, embodiments, and cultural reproductions of each that celebrate, both virtuously and excellently, how one can make a difference productively (the recovering subject) and how one can be different dynamically (the transformative subject). Undertaking this reconstructive journey is how the shadows of our selves can be quieted and the captivity of all subjectivities can be quelled. Methodologically, ultramodernists have not yet sufficiently charted the constituents of this passage. To be clear, what is envisioned here is a revolution in, a re-writing and re-reading of, the scientific method. This observation notwithstanding, the criminal justice apparatus is replete with texts awaiting alternative renderings of its realities (e.g., Arrigo et al. 2011; Arrigo 2012). These renditions would be provisional, positional, and relational; otherwise, they, too, would become totalities and this condition is anathema to the evolution in ultramodern philosophy and postmodernist-informed criminological science.

Developments In Praxis

The deconstructive/reconstructive ultramodern method is also relevant at the level of engaged praxis. This is the realm of thinking about and doing habits of character so that the possibilities of vibrantly living virtuously become more realizable for one and about all. In other words, in an era of captivity that engenders harms of totalizing madness, “ideas like “dignity,” “the therapeutic,” “restorative,” “fair-mindedness,” “injury,” “community,” “health,” “self,” “society,” and the like are all filtered through the intemperance that this captivity most assuredly guarantees” (Arrigo et al. 2011, p. 169). The presence of this captivity is how a dynamic praxis is both deferred and denied. However, this far-from-equilibrium activity is the condition that grows a transformative citizenship informed by emergent visions of justice. This is why the symbolic, linguistic, material, and cultural meanings that attach to the practices of this self/society mutuality must be dis-and reengaged. This is how ultra-modernity’s conception of deconstruction and reconstruction operates at the realm of lived praxis.

To illustrate this perspective, let us consider the following. What images do we conjure (the symbolic realm), what texts do we write (linguistic realm), what oral histories do we live and embody (the material realm), and what imitations of each do we reproduce (cultural realm) when we honor an offender’s dignity, heal a victim’s injury, and restore a community’s conscience in the wake of violence and victimization? Mindful of ultramodern praxis, constructs such as dignity, health, restoration, and community must be critiqued in order to discern the potentially concealed aesthetical, epistemological, ethical, and ontological preferences that reductively and repressively co-produce harm. In essence, then, the ultramodern reminds us that thinking about and doing virtue as dynamic and transformative praxis is an embodied ethic that questions the rendition of reality, of justice, from which such possibilities are advanced and to which they are directed. Indeed, for whom and under what conditions is justice served by any particularized rendering?

Controversies In Postmodern Literature

The proposed developments in ultramodern theory, method, and praxis as constituents of a postmodernist-informed science are controversial in their originality and experimentation. Undertaking this journey – of developing and growing this uncultivated criminology – is an exercise in renovation and innovation for a people yet to come (Deleuze and Guattari 1984, 1987). But transcending the society of captives and overcoming the shadows of our selves is a strange expedition. It is an awaiting revolution (Arrigo and Milovanovic 2009). This revolution begins as critique – from the symbolic to the linguistic, from the material to the cultural, and unfolds in historically contingent although manifest form. This critique seeks to restore and transform all those who experience harms of reduction and repression as crime and violence normalized so that they (and all of us) can make a difference productively and become a difference dynamically. This is the critical pedagogy by which captivity, in all of its manifestations, is studied and revolutionized. Each of the above notions – especially in their relationships to ultramodern philosophy – contributes to the contentious postmodern landscape.

Open Questions

What is the nature of authentic human/social interconnectedness in the age of the ultramodern?

This is a quality of citizenship and of social justice whose mutuality remains problematically under-developed. To illustrate, the global village of the Internet and its hyper-real progeny normalize violence (re-imagine, re-tell, and re-inscribe) through limit-setting and denial-imposing meaning-making. This is identity construction that reconceives such human/social phenomena as “intimacy,” “courage,” and even “friendship.” In the digital age, identity that celebrates the virtual rather than the visceral, the imitative rather than the authenticated, is privileged. Text-messaging, myspacing, facebooking, and skyping are proliferating forms of social networking. But how are these forms of relatedness renditions of reality that replicate human/social citizenship excellently? In other words, what does the ubiquity of this immediately accessible interconnectivity teach us about intimacy, courage, and friendship? If it is found by way of the previously and provisionally enumerated methodology that these digitized encounters are lacking in a mutating authenticity, then overcoming the harms that they seed and nurture (i.e., excessive investments in liquid identities and virtual realities that reduce/repress humanity) is a revolutionary journey that must be deconstructively and reconstructively pursued.

If liquid identities and virtual realities are artifacts of the ultramodern, how do we overcome the death of experience that similarly disappears along with them?

The conditions of a society at its center, tell us a great deal about the nature of behavior at its fringes. The fringe behavior at issue here is the breadth and depth of experience that the power to harm reifies and captures by way of its systems of thought. The tendencies of such captivity are to discipline and to normalize. The maintenance of these sanitizing tendencies or central conditions is the power to harm teleologically. The death of experience alluded to here encompasses the pseudo-realities individuals both construct and encounter, and they consist of their replicas and fac¸ades that function to supplant matter and materiality (Arrigo 2012). Overcoming such finalizing of experience requires that we shatter and increase our language so that we can shatter and increase our realities. These activities return us to the excavation work of the unconscious and the images that await symbolization and activation for a people yet to come. Specifying the constituents of this mobilization, of this awaiting revolution, is a strange and uncharted journey of becoming other (Levinas 2004). The activity of becoming other – of being present to and for another always already more courageously, generously, compassionately, mercifully, etc., – is the promise of character. Living this promise excellently is captivity’s release. This release is how the retrieval and transformation of experience appears in consciousness, travels through texts, inhabits histories, and culturally manufactures the constitutive reproductions of each.

How do the death of experience and the inauthenticities to and from which liquid identities and virtual realities sustain their mutuality, make possible an experiential conversion (an overcoming) in images, texts, embodiments, and replications?

The possibilities for an experiential conversion that renovates and innovates the human agency – social structure mutuality, are located in the vast reservoir that is the unconscious. The co-productive flows, intensities, frequencies, and fluctuations that shape and are shaped by extant identities and realities, currently write the subject, the social, and their constitutive interdependencies as a text of totalizing confinement. This is a systemic madness because the recursive effects of such captivity impede citizenship’s potential (i.e., in its images, texts, and embodied practices). These harm-generating impediments thwart the possibility of conceiving of citizenship as dynamic difference lived ever more virtuously and humanly. Additionally, the effects of this systemic pathology produce circumscribed visions of justice for one and about all whose consequent limits and denials derivatively manufacture mere shadows of justice. However, when we inhabit the space of otherness – dwell joyfully, lovingly, virtuously, and excellently within this strange, uncertain basin – this act of will mobilized to power helps to spark the awaiting revolution for a people yet to come. Occupying this space is much like becoming a jazz player. The cascading conditions, fluctuating intensities, and corresponding frequencies that extol such otherness, such difference, remain a source of future postmodernist-inspired ultramodern inquiry.


The problem of explicating human behavior and social phenomena in ways that respectively grow citizenship and advance justice undoubtedly will persist. One facet of this persistence is in recognizing how the power that harm exercises, reifies crimes of reduction and repression. The modernist approach employs quantitatively-sourced and empirically tested scientific methods to explain and predict criminal and delinquent behavior. According to postmodernists, this criminological approach is less than sufficient and, at worst, inflicts existential and material harms on all those within its fearfully hypervigilant and dangerously panoptic ambit. This captivity is totalizing. It is a madness that limits being and denies becoming for the kept, and their keepers, regulators, and watchers. Sustaining the influencing shadows of this captivity is how the normalization of violence, of crime, prevails. Its coproductive effects extend from the aesthetical to the epistemological, from the ethical to the onto logical. A postmodern criminology informed by ultramodern philosophy seeks to overcome the reductive and repressive power to harm by way of restorative and transformative flows, frequencies, fluctuations, and intensities. These influencing forces celebrate spheres of human/social flourishing. Cultivating this ethic is an invitation to further develop theory, method, and praxis. This is the ultramodern challenge of igniting a revolutionary science of criminology.


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